News Column

Borah grad makes big-screen debut with 'The To Do List'

July 16, 2013


July 16--Maggie Carey had some serious bragging rights if she'd only made it home to her 20th reunion at Borah High School in late June.

The 37-year-old Boise native wrote and directed "The To Do List," a movie set in 1990s Boise and opening nationwide July 26.

The premiere is Tuesday in Los Angeles, Carey told the Statesman on Sunday.

"My high school girlfriends are going to come," she said. "I am excited for them to get here. I really want to get the low-down and the dirt on the reunion. They sent a bunch of pictures."

Carey's comedy revolves around a Boise teenager named Brandy Klark, valedictorian of the Class of 1993 -- the year Carey graduated. Klark, played by "Parks and Recreation" actress Aubrey Plaza, creates a "to do" list of the things she missed out on in high school.

The raunchy R-rated movie is a comedy for adults. It has been likened to coming-of-age teen flicks such as "American Pie," "Porky's" and "Superbad" -- but with a female protagonist.

Carey said she's really proud of the movie but has already warned her parents that they can never see it.

"It's about a high school girl who wants to lose her virginity, and I don't think my parents are going to want to see that," she said.

Carey earned a bachelor's in English literature at the University of Montana and a master's of fine arts from the University of Texas, Austin.

She has made a documentary and written TV shows, but this is her first film. A tight budget didn't permit filming in Boise, but the trailer does show at least some footage of iconic Boise images.

Carey is married to comedian Bill Hader, a longtime "Saturday Night Live" cast member who is occasionally spotted around Boise when the couple visits Carey's family.

Hader -- as well as former SNL star Andy Samberg -- is featured in the film. "I don't know why she thinks of me as this weird, slacker, stoner person," he says in the movie's publicity materials.

In a phone conversation with the Statesman, Carey answered questions about her movie and her life -- which includes fond memories of Jackson Elementary, West Junior High and Boise Towne Square Mall. Her responses are edited for brevity.

Q: Was it your 20th reunion that inspired a movie about high school?

A: Not at all. I shot it two years ago, and I wrote it a little bit before. It was absolutely the fact that I was a teenager in the '90s ... . It's crazy how technology has changed how teenagers socialize. It was important that I set the movie in a time period before the Internet and before cellphones. Although both of those things existed, they were not mainstream.

Q: Is it autobiographical?

A: It's total fiction. It's absolutely inspired by the point of view of a high school teenage girl growing up in Boise, Idaho, for sure. I share similarities with the main character: I was in every AP class possible. I played a ton of sports. I was in student council. I was an all-American (soccer player). I was also totally boy crazy. I was very Type A. I was not valedictorian, however. I'm still upset about that.

Q: Was there any teacher at Borah High who inspired you, or contributed to your current success?

A: My AP English teacher, Mrs. (Susan) Durst. She gave us the opportunity every month, instead of writing a paper, we could do a video. So that was, honestly, sort of the first time I got my hands on a video camera. We borrowed one of our friends' parents' video cameras. We got to, instead of reading "The Iliad," make a video. ... I was a total control freak and a camera hog. I wouldn't let anyone else in my group use or touch the camera. I was clearly the director, and they still give me a hard time for that.

Q: Boise's Big Bun makes an appearance in the movie. Did you go there often as a kid?

A: In the '90s, my best friend's family owned it. Every day, for lunch, we would go to the Big Bun Drive-in for lunch -- burgers and shakes. We ate really healthy. We also ate in the cafeteria, but you had one hour, and Big Bun was a restaurant that was like five minutes away so you could make it there and back in time.

Q: How did you create Big Bun and the landscape of Boise in L.A.?

A: We talked to the current owners of Big Bun, and they said we could use the name. Then I found a similar outdoor drive-in burger joint in the valley, in L.A. This is an incredibly low-budget movie. The only visual effects shots I had were I had them put in mountains behind the pool. They are Idaho mountains.

Q: Why was the movie set in your hometown?

A: To me, the setting of the movie, putting it in Boise, was actually very important. The main character is a little behind. ... I do think it's different when you grow up in Boise, versus growing up in L.A. or New York. For me, it was all positive qualities growing up in a small town. Before the Internet, you weren't exposed to fashion and music trends -- everything came late there. This is a girl that is very much a late bloomer, so it was important that this was Idaho. When I would talk to the production designer and my costume designer, you know I'd say it's 1993, but that's really 1988 for most parts of the country.

Q: Is the female coming-of-age comedy a new genre? Who were your influences?

A: I was a big fan of John Hughes' movies -- "Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club." I loved the high school movie genre "Dazed and Confused," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "American Graffiti." Those had a big impact on me.

I do think it's true that you don't see a lot of movies like ("The To Do List") from the female perspective, especially not comedies. There are a lot of coming-of-age stories, like "Little Darlings," but that's more of a drama. This movie is not a romantic comedy, it's just a comedy comedy. I think a lot of the high school movies featuring girls can tend to be romantic comedies.

Q: Where did you hone your craft?

A: Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, a comedy theater in New York. I moved to New York and started doing improv and sketch there. One of the founders of that theater is Amy Poehler. From an early stage of my comedy career, I've seen her as a total role model. That theater, too, is unique in that there are a ton of women. I was on improv and sketch teams with tons of talented, funny women. ... That was a great place and a really safe place and a really fun place to cut my comedic chops.

Q: Where did you meet your husband?

A: We met in L.A. I went to college with a guy in his sketch group. They didn't actually have a theater they were affiliated with -- they put on shows in their friends' backyard. In one of the sketches, Bill was wearing overalls and no shirt. I'm from Idaho, and that's a total turn-on. After the show, I was, 'Who is that funny guy in the overalls?'

Q: You have two young daughters. What will you tell them about the movie?

A: They are going to go to high school at a convent, so they will never see this movie. My nieces and nephews are extras in the pool scenes in the movie, and they will also never see this movie.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413


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